Select HBCUs Graduate Engineering Students At a Higher Rate Than Flagship Universities

Research shows Black students who go to a historically Black college or university are more likely to graduate with a STEM degree than those who attend a non-HBCU. But a new analysis by The Plug shows that select HBCUs are graduating engineering students at a much higher rate than the flagship universities in their state.

Nearly 18 percent of Black STEM bachelor’s degrees are awarded from HBCUs and a third of all Black students who have gotten a doctorate degree earned their bachelor’s from an HBCU, according to the National Science Foundation. At least 15 HBCU engineering programs are accredited by ABET, a non-profit that offers a nationally recognized accreditation to STEM programs.

Of those 15 schools, nine had a larger share of their student body graduate with a bachelor’s degree in engineering or engineering-related technologies than the larger, more well-funded flagship public university in their state, according to graduation data between 2019 and 2020 from the National Center for Education Statistics.

In Alabama, 25 percent of Tuskegee University’s graduating class left with an engineering degree, much higher than the University of Alabama’s 13 percent and even higher than one of the main engineering universities in the state, Auburn University, which was 20 percent. Alabama A&M University was also higher than the University of Alabama at 17 percent.

At Morgan State University, 20 percent of the degrees it awarded from 2019-2020 were in engineering, a larger share than 13 percent at the University of Maryland at College Park.

However, the respective flagship universities typically confer more engineering PhDs than HBCUs. This is largely due to the research capabilities and funding at the schools, which are all classified as R1 doctoral universities, meaning they have very high research activity and typically get federal and private funding to conduct that much research.

However, no HBCU is classified as R1. The 15 accredited HBCU engineering schools are all ranked as R2 institutions or lower, meaning they do not do as much research or spend as much money as R1 schools.

But even with being under-resourced in comparison to their counterparts HBCUs, North Carolina A&T State University and Prairie View A&M University produced a larger share of engineering PhDs in 2019-2020 than their respective flagships.

At North Carolina A&T, nearly 50 percent of all doctorates granted that year were for engineering while less than one percent of PhDs granted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were for engineers. 

Though UNC—CH is largely a liberal arts college, even compared to North Carolina State University, one of the state’s biggest engineering schools, NC A&T still produced a higher share. At NC State, one-third of doctorates were awarded in an engineering discipline.

In Texas, the share of engineering PhDs at Prairie View A&M was nearly twice that of the University of Texas at Austin, 33 percent compared to 16.8 percent, respectively.

At all of the 15 engineering HBCUs, more than half of their student bodies identify as Black, often at least 80 to 90 percent. At the respective flagships, the student body is anywhere between four to 15 percent Black. As companies try to diversify their recruiting pipelines and get more Black people into STEM industries, it will be important to look at HBCUs for this talent. 

See the map below to compare all 15 HBCUs with their flagship counterparts:

NOTE: In the District of Columbia, the flagship university is also one of the accredited engineering HBCUs — the University of the District of Columbia — so the comparison is against George Washington University, which has a robust engineering school

Mirtha Donastorg

Mirtha Donastorg is a corps member with Report for America and The Plug's HBCU Innovation Editor and Senior Reporter, exploring start-up initiatives and innovations coming from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as the way students are shaping the future of tech. She previously worked as an associate producer and a researcher for CNN.